Budget cuts for Tech Modern Languages

Located in Harrison Square near Tech Tower, the Swann Building houses the School of Modern Languages, which faces budget and language program cuts. // Photo by MK Greiner Student Publications

Budget restrictions at the Institute level have forced the Tech School of Modern Languages to pause the Hindi, Hebrew, Persian, Portuguese, Wolof and Swahili programs, which include both culture and language classes. 

While these programs are beneficial to students with an interest in language acquisition, some of these classes do not satisfy humanities requirements, partly because they do not contribute to a stand-alone minor. This often results in the particular language class being a fall-through credit, which negligibly impacts students as they try to satisfy degree completion requirements. 

The School offers numerous other languages that do, however, provide humanities credit: Arabic, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Linguistics. Due to their application to a student’s degree plan, these programs tend to be of greater interest and value to the general student body. 

Specifically, students can fulfill requirements for the Minor in Middle Eastern and North African Studies by taking Arabic, Persian, French or Hebrew. However, Hebrew and Persian classes have not been offered for at least the last two consecutive semesters, leaving students with fewer choices in language classes they can take to pursue this particular minor.

In the fall of 2020, there were 14 students in Hebrew classes, 28 in Hindi, 43 in Persian,  nine in Portuguese, five in Swahili and six in Wolof. These numbers have stayed relatively consistent despite the number of classes offered for these particular languages dropping. In the fall of 2021, there were 18 Hebrew, 26 Hindi, 32 Persian, three Swahili and five Wolof students. Portuguese enrollment dropped to one student, and that program only offered the cross-listed Intro to Africa class in Fall 2021. Now, these classes are on pause, contingent on resources and programming in the future. 

Interim Chair of the School of Modern Languages David Shook explained that “these programs did not see a fulfillment of the expectations we had for student interest and growth.” 

Due to these factors, the School has decided to pause the programs for the time being as it undergoes Academic Program Review. Academic Program Review happens about every five years for every degree program at the Institute. This review evaluates the current progression of programs and considers their potential for growth for the future. 

For the School of Modern Languages, this means evaluating all of the programs, not just the ones on pause. A new Chair will be instated on July 1, 2023, and the direction of the programs will become more apparent.

Some students have taken it into their own hands to preserve their beloved language programs. Third-year IAML student Anaïs Acree says that the change.org petition she started in April of 2022 has “garnered substantial funding pledges,” but creating the change needed to save the programs would require much more funding and support. 

With a goal of bringing Persian back to Tech, Acree has raised awareness through her petition (which has nearly 1,800 signatures) and discussed her concerns with the Dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

Acree’s words were imbued with a sense of appreciation for Persian culture, and stated that “it is exhilarating to now read and understand ancient quotes from poets like Rumi in the original Persian.” 

Acree explained that the program has helped her to connect with students on campus with similar backgrounds. According to the website for the School of Modern Languages, their motto champions “the exchange of diverse perspectives and impactful collaborations … global competence and inclusivity” and “curiosity about the world.” 

A diverse program with less commonly taught languages contributes to these ideals by not only exposing more people to different cultures, but also by broadening horizons, both in personal and professional life, for students who have some background with the language.

Online language courses, both synchronous and asynchronous, are offered through the School of Modern Languages from elementary up to the intermediate level. These courses are open to students who are already admitted to the Institute as well as non-Tech students who apply as “transient” or “special” students. Undergraduate students have priority, but if space is available, these non-Tech students are given access to the Institute’s language curriculums. 

When the Hindi program started in 2019, there was one class offered, and it was open to all institutions under the University System of Georgia umbrella. Students from Georgia State University and Clayton University were able to take advantage of this opportunity. 

Funding for the smaller language programs came from online course tuition, but this funding will not be renewed in the future as of now. The retraction of funds is tiered, and by the fall of 2024, no extra funding will be received by the School of Modern Languages, cutting off a previously vital source of their income.

Finding external funding could be beneficial in the short term, but the School requires a more sustainable means of funding to pay instructors in the future.

While this news is disappointing to members of the Tech community, it is not an isolated occurrence. Language program cuts are happening nationwide and have been happening for years. The Modern Language Association (MLA) reported in 2016 that they found 651 instances in which a foreign language that had been offered in the fall of 2013 was not being offered in the fall of 2016. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that language programs are disappearing, but a 9.2% decline in enrollment in languages other than English is a national trend in

higher education institutions across the United States. The MLA has been conducting research for its next enrollment report and is set to publish that information this coming spring.

As Acree puts it, “students of Persian descent are missing out on the opportunity [I] received, to learn reading and writing a language that they can already speak. Non-Persians are missing the opportunity to learn an ancient language that is still in use today.” 

For now, only time will tell whether the upcoming Academic Program Review for the School of Modern Languages at Tech will be enough to reinstate cut programs and expand and protect the language pathways offered at the Institute.